I love my job. I love talking with people and hearing about their life experiences. I love the feeling of having helped someone. However, every job has its downsides, and with medicine, it is sharing bad news. Although never easy, properly communicating this type of information is an acquired skill. Whether the news is very serious or seemingly insignificant, I apply three basic rules to the interaction.
Rule number one: Be blunt. When someone realizes that bad news is coming, the anxiety can escalate. No one wants to hear, “I have some bad news.” Start out by stating the problem as clearly and briefly as possible. Then allow a few seconds for them to process the information before sharing the details.
Rule number two: Don’t tell someone how they should feel. “Don’t worry” may be an unreasonable expectation. You can often temper their feelings by emphasizing your ongoing support and that of their family.
Rule number three: Listen. Silence is okay. Sometimes merely sending them the message that you are there for them is all that is needed.
Being the bearer of bad news is always challenging. But remember, even with serious matters, the delivery can have more impact than the message itself.